mjj (flemmings) wrote,

The origins of language

I get my Chinese piecemeal, where I find it. Oddly, that seems to work better for me than sitting down with a textbook and vocab lists, or even hanzi books. Give me a word with a context and it is mine for life, or at least the next five minutes. (This is why I *still* have to review my Toyo kanji in Japanese, twenty years after I first started learning them.)

So as I work my way through 千秋一夢 I am so pleased to come across a whole phrase I know: 不可一世, which of course I see all the time on mauvecloud's icon.

Why yes, I'm on sentence three of section one on day 3 of doing this. 'Work my way' means 'work my way.' It's terribly nostalgic. Takes me back to a muggy May night in 1991 in a tatami room out the Seibu Shinjuku line, with a biography of O-oka Echizen in Japanese and Kahn and Hadamitsky's kanji dictionary and two hours to hack my way through half a page. Takes me back even farther, to the eve of the moon landing in 1969, sitting at my desk in my blue bedroom with three weeks of Greek under my belt and Xenophon's Apology open before me and the shorter Liddell and Scott thesaurus, doing what I'm doing now, hacking through the text word by word. There's a belief current that Chinese and Japanese can communicate through their written languages, and it may even be true. But gaijin who've learned Japanese late will arrive at very strange notions of what the Chinese means if they employ only their Japanese knowledge. 黑衣黑冠,窄袍大袖,面容明整 is no great problem, but as I've said, 似有仙風道骨 was serious WTF.

There's also a small dissonance in the fact that for me, Chinese is mute-- a language without sound. I know what these hanzi mean (sometimes) but I don't know what they say. The reverse of Linear A, I suppose, and still better than that.
Tags: chinese, language, woxin

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